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Campus handles over 200 false alarms yearly

By Jacob Tierney
On November 15, 2011

The shrill sound of the alarm sends hundreds of students out the doors of their dorm building, where they huddle together waiting for the fire department to arrive. The trucks are there within minutes. Usually the firefighters will look around briefly before determining that there is no emergency, allowing the students to proceed back inside.

It's a common occurrence here at Buffalo State. The college has over 200 false alarms per year, according to information from the University Police Department.

For each alarm, the Buffalo Fire Department will dispatch two trucks to the scene, along with between nine and 12 emergency personnel. UPD will also send all available units to the building.

When false alarms are a common occurrence, students say their reaction is more annoyed than urgent.

"I don't react quickly, most of the time I assume it's an accident," said Jasira Stephens, a freshman Psychology major who lives in Porter Hall.

Usually, these alarms are caused by cooking accidents in the dorms that create enough smoke to set off the detectors, but pose no actual danger.

"What we see most common is that a student is cooking and then walks away," said Peter Carey, chief of the University Police Department.

The college has already dealt with 80 false alarms so far this semester, compared to 244 over the entire 2010-2011 academic year.

Actual fires are much more rare, although they are often caused by the same careless cooking mistakes that set off false alarms. Of the eight fires on campus in 2010, six were caused by cooking. These fires caused a combined total of $260 worth of damage.

This semester a cooking fire in the new Student Apartment Complex caused serious damage to the kitchen in one of the suites, Carey said.

"People who do not know how to cook should not be allowed to cook," Stephens said. But she admits it might be difficult to change their behavior.

"It's difficult to control what people do," she said.

Sophomore Asem Watson, who lives on the same floor as the kitchen in Tower 3, said his dorm held a meeting on fire safety that included plenty of tips on how to cook safely and prevent false alarms. Since then, he says, the number of incidents seems to have dropped.

"I think that's worked," he said.

Rarely, false alarms are caused by somebody intentionally pulling a fire alarm when there is no actual emergency. This is a criminal offense, Carey said.

Sometimes these pranks happen close together. In 2008, six alarms were pulled between Nov. 4 and Nov. 5, in what UPD officials suspected was a celebration of President Barack Obama's election.

False alarms are an annoyance that may pull emergency responders and UPD officials away from other important duties, Carey said.

"While we're handling that false alarm, we're not doing other things," he said.

Besides educating students, not much can be done to reduce false alarms. Sensitive alarms are important to protecting students, Carey said.

"What kind of trade off do you want to have?" Carey said. "I think you always err on the side of caution in having a reasonably sensitive fire alarm system."

Jacob Tierney can be reached by email at

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